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Phylum Echinodermata > Class Crinoidea > Order Comatulida
Feather stars
Order Comatulida
updated Apr 2020

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
Feather stars are rarely found near the shore.
Most species can move about from place to place.
Their long spiny arms are fragile and break easily. Don't disturb them.

Where seen? These feathery animals are sometimes seen on some of our shores, generally near living reefs. They are also encountered by divers on our Southern reefs. Most feather stars only come out to feed at night. During the day, they hide in crevices or among coral, curling up their arms in tight coils.

What are feather stars? Feather stars belong to Phylum Echinodermata. Although they may look similar to brittle stars, feather stars belong to a different Class Crinoidea. 'Crinoidea' means 'lily-like' in Greek. There are about 600 known living species of feather stars. Shallow-water crinoids are also called comatulids.

Many gathered on a hard coral.
Sentosa Serapong, Jul 15

Beautiful shades and colours.
Changi, Jun 08

Some can be tiny.
Tanah Merah, Oct 09
Features: Like other echinoderms, feather stars are symmetrical along five axes, have spiny skin and tube feet. Like brittle stars, feather stars have thin, long and highly flexible arms. But crinoids are much more spectacular than brittle stars, with an explosion of long feathery arms.

The arms arise from a cup-shaped structure at the centre called the calyx. The calyx contains the digestive system and is covered by a soft membrane called the tegmen that may be rounded into a mound or look like a drum skin over the calyx. Unlike sea stars and brittle stars, the feather star's mouth facing upwards. The mouth may be in the centre of the disk or off to one side. The anus is also on the upperside, in some species at the top of a cone or tube that brings it above the feeding current to prevent fouling of the feeding process.

The side of the feather star that faces downwards has a claw-like appendage called the cirri that is used to grip the surface.

Clinging on with the cirri.
Beting Bronok, May 06

Tiny tube feet on the pinnules.
Pulau Hantu, Jan 12

Channels along the pinnules and arm.
Sisters Island, Aug 12
Sometimes confused with brittle stars which also have bristley arms. But brittle stars usually only have 5 or 6 arms. More on how to tell apart bristley animals and feathery animals.

An armful: Juvenile feather stars start with 5 arms but repeatedly grow back two arms in place of each arm branch that is shed. This branching happens near the calyx. Thus feather stars usually have arms in multiples of 5, most have at least 10 arms. Some can have 80-200 arms!

The arms are made up of large, well developed, jointed ossicles (plates made mostly of calcium carbonate). The ossicles are connected together like a bicycle chain. Along the length of the arms are rows of tiny finger-like structures called pinnules that give the animal its feathery look. Each pinnule is jointed and has a groove down the middle that joins to a groove running down the length of the arm. The grooves are lined by tube feet that produce mucus. Unlike in sea stars, the tube feet do not play a part in moving the animal but are used in collecting food and to breathe. The pinnules near the mouth protect the mouth from harm and keep the area clean.

What do they eat? Feather stars feed on tiny drifting organisms and particles, gathering these passively from the water by adjusting their arms to maximise the filter feeding area relative to the water flow. The arms may form a flat fan or may be curved into a parabola like a satellite dish. Some may hide in crevices and only stick out some part of their arms to gather food. The mucus covered arms have tiny tube feet that flick edible bits into the grooves of the pinnule and arm. These bits are then slowly transported along the groove to the mouth.

Regenerating arm tips.
Chek Jawa, May 05

Pink eggs in the pinnules?
Sisters Island, Aug 12

Some can be tiny.
Tanah Merah, Oct 09
Swimming stars: Feather stars can move about by moving their arms. They crawl over soft sediments, using their arms to drag themselves over the surface, lifting up the central portion of their bodies. Their arms and pinnules have tiny hooks that catch on the surface. They can also swim by thrashing their arms in the water in co-ordinated strokes. However, feather stars usually only crawl or swim to get away from predators. They usually don't move around very much once they find a good spot to settle on. Feather stars are usually perched on top of tall living or dead hard corals, sponges and other sturdy anchors. Here, they extend their arms into the currents and gather food.

Falling apart:
Like brittle stars, feather stars can purposely drop off an arm or two when threatened. The dropped arm may continue to wriggle to distract the predator while the brittle star escapes. The feather star is able to do this because the ossicles in its arms are connected by mutable connective tissue. The feather star can rapidly change the consistency of this tissue from rock hard to almost liquid. The arm eventually re-grows, but it takes about a month before it is fully restored. Fishes are the main predators of feather stars.

Feather star babies: Feather stars have separate genders and are usually either male or female. The eggs and sperm are produced in swollen pinnules near the base of the arms. These are released into the water for external fertilisation. Feather stars undergo metamorphosis and their larvae look nothing like the adults. The form that first hatches from the eggs are bilaterally symmetrical and free-swimming, drifting with the plankton. They eventually settle down and develop into tiny stalked feather stars. After a few weeks, the cirri form and the little feather star breaks free from the stalk to become a free-moving adult.

Sisters Island, Feb 15
Photo shared by James Koh on flickr

St John's Island, Apr 12
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Sisters Island, Aug 12
Living off a star: Various small crabs, shrimps, worms, brittle stars and other tiny animals may live on a feather star. Some are found no where else.

Brittle star
Raffles Lighthouse, Jul 06

Brittle star
East Coast Park, Jun 13

Brittle star
East Coast Park, Jun 13
Old stars: Feather stars are the most ancient and considered the most primitive of echinoderms. In the fossil records, there were 10 times more feather stars and sea lilies than there are today.

Star on a stick: Stalked stars, called sea lilies, are mostly found in deep waters 100m or lower. There are about 80 species of sea lilies. Some living sea lilies can have stalks up to 1m long!

Human uses:
Feather stars are not widely used for human purposes. Although they almost invariably die a slow death from starvation in marine aquariums, they are sometimes taken for the live aquarium trade.

Status and threats: Some of our feather stars are listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. Stephanometra spicata, described in the 1960's as one of the most common feather stars on our shores, is today listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. Lamprometra palmata and Stephanometra indica were considered common in the late 1990's but were rarely encountered in a survey of echinoderms in the early 2000's. Like other creatures of the intertidal zone, feather stars are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution. Trampling by careless visitors also have an impact on local populations.

Feather stars on Singapore shores

Class Crinoidea recorded for Singapore
*from C. G. Messing & T. S. Tay. 29 June 2016. Extant Crinoidea (Echinodermata) of Singapore
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.
**from WORMS.
+from The Biodiversity of Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

  Feather stars seen awaiting identification
Feather star species are difficult to positively identify without dissection and examination of internal parts. On this website, they are grouped by external features for convenience of display.
  Black-and-white feather star
Blue feather star
Brown feather star
Pale feather star
Purple feather star

  Family “Antedonidae”

Dorometra nana
Dorometra parvicirra

  Family Colobometridae
  Colobometra perspinosa

Cenometra bella

Decametra sp.
Decametra informis
Decametra mylitta

Oligometra serripinna

Pontiometra andersoni

  Family Comatulidae

Anneissia bennetti

Capillaster multiradiatus
Capillaster sentosus
Capillaster cf. tenuicirrus

Comaster schlegelii
Comanthus parvicirrus

Comatula cf. solaris
Comatula cf. pectinata
+Comatula purpurea

Phanogenia typica
Phanogenia schoenovi

  Family Himerometridae
  Amphimetra cf. discoidea
Amphimetra ensifer
Amphimetra molleri

Craspedometra acuticirra

Heterometra affinis
Heterometra amboinae
Heterometra bengalensis
Heterometra cf. crenulata
Heterometra producta
Heterometra quinduplicava
Heterometra schlegelii
Heterometra singularis

Himerometra robustipinna
(Red feather star) (DD: Data deficient)
Himerometra bartschi

  Family Mariametridae

Dichrometra flagellata

Lamprometra palmata

Stephanometra tenuipinna
Stephanometra indica
(VU: Vulnerable)

  Family Zygometridae
  Zygometra comata

Links References
  • C. G. Messing & T. S. Tay. 29 June 2016. Extant Crinoidea (Echinodermata) of Singapore. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2016 Supplement No. 34 (Part I of II) Pp. 627-658.
  • T. S. Tay & J. K. Y. Low. 29 June 2016. Crinoid diversity in the subtidal non-coral reef habitats of Singapore. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2016 Supplement No. 34 (Part I of II) Pp. 659-665.
  • Charles Messing. 16 October 2015. New record of the featherstar Cenometra bella in Singapore. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 160
  • C. G. Messing & T. S. Tay. 29 June 2016. Extant Crinoidea (Echinodermata) of Singapore. [pdf] The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2016 Supplement No. 34 (Part II of II) Pp. 627-658.
  • Lane, David J.W. and Didier Vandenspiegel. 2003. A Guide to Sea Stars and Other Echinoderms of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 187pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Edward E. Ruppert, Richard S. Fox, Robert D. Barnes. 2004.Invertebrate Zoology Brooks/Cole of Thomson Learning Inc., 7th Edition. pp. 963
  • Pechenik, Jan A., 2005. Biology of the Invertebrates. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill Book Co., Singapore. 578 pp.
  • Hendler, Gordon, John E. Miller, David L. Pawson and Porter M. Kier, 1995. Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, and Allies: Echinoderms of Florida and the Caribbean. Smithsonian Institution Press. 390 pp.
  • Schoppe, Sabine, 2000. Echinoderms of the Philippines: A guide to common shallow water sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and feather stars. Times Edition, Singapore. 144 pp.
  • Coleman, Neville. undated. Sea Stars of Australasia and their relatives. Neville Coleman's World of Water, Australia. 64pp.
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